This means that, more than ever, there's an actual reward system for success - and a variety of ways that that success can be defined. Separate from that, there are also other achievements to work towards with associated bonuses. Get enough friends and their affection for you will never decay even if you never see them. Jog over a threshold and your character will be blessed with a longer life. There are also sporadic life opportunities - like chess fairs or things happening in the office - which feel like quests. Linked to characters' new inventories, it feels more than a role-playing game than ever.
But segueing to the second main point, it's a role-playing game which understands that The Sims isn't necessarily about simple success. Look at character generation. As well as being able to tweak your appearance massively, your personality is defined by up to five traits you select. Rather than spend your points on making your sim active or lazy, fun-loving or serious, as in previous games, these are singular traits, each of which has an obvious, meaningful impact on the world. If you create a sim who's an absent-minded neurotic athletic angling snob, they'll act in an obviously different way to a flirty, friendly, green-thumbed, grumpy genius. The key thing to note is that traits, whether they're helpful or not, are treated as equivalent to one another. You can create a sim whose nature obviously points at success, or a sim whose nature obviously points at alienating everyone they ever meet.
My reservations really are minor. While the ability to apply all the textures to all the clothes means a mass of variety from every single item - which deserves a paragraph of its own, but will wait for the review - there don't seem to be as many hair pieces as I'd expect. Also on the visual side, The Sims 3 is probably less attractive than you'd expect for a new game, with one eye clearly on the most accessible system specs possible.
The developers spoke about reducing the focus on maintaining bodily functions, and while this does appear to be true, I suspect it won't be enough for some. While most of the game introduces its concepts elegantly, there are still some obfuscatory moments where it's trickier than it should be to work out what's blocking the direction you want to go. For example, controlling the aforementioned terribly slutty sim, I found it hard to get an option to ask someone out. Eventually I realised it was because I was already going out with someone, and you have to go and dump them before you can ask someone else. But that's not explained, and surely you could just ask someone out and automatically dump the other one, and have them turn up angrily and have a go. And I want to be a bigamist.
In terms of stuff I haven't had a chance to explore, I haven't examined the video-editing tools, but they do look nifty. The biggest reservation is that this is relatively twitchy preview code rather than the final game, with the occasional (and entirely usual for preview code) crash forcing me to reboot and replay. That I was happy to do that says much about how much I've enjoyed my time with The Sims 3 so far.
In short: enormously promising. I just don't know if it will be enough to convert those who fill comment threads whining about the stream of add-on packs, and that's a shame. Without losing any of the construction and personalisation elements which have attracted the huge casual audience for The Sims, this is as gamer-centric as the series has ever been. Unless something goes drastically wrong in the next two weeks, I really can't see this not being the best yet.
The Sims 3 is due out for PC on 5th June and will be reviewed shortly before that.